Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It Was Palm Sunday

So I went to church this past Sunday, narrowly avoiding a SWAT copter trying to corral an alleged out of control bathrobe-wearing woman with a knife (I think they lost her when she went back inside a house), a protest at the Post Office because people still want their mail delivered on Saturdays, and mobs and mobs of people checking out the second service, all of which is enough to make me want to go back to the first service, especially next week, since it's Easter Sunday.

Yeah, that's right!  Next week IS Easter Sunday!  So this week is Palm Sunday!  Right!?  Right!?  Because that's what usually happens?  Palm Sunday is a week before Easter Sunday?  And normally, you'll see the cute parade of kids waving palm fronds (which, this being Los Angeles, can't be that hard to round up.  The palm fronds, I mean.  Or little kids, they have those here in L.A. too) and there'll be some variation of Jesus Christ Superstar's "HO SANNA HEY SANNA SANNA SANNA HO, SANNA HEY SANNA HO SANNAAAAAAAHHHHHH!"

There should be some mention in the sermon about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah that the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem, “on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9) and all sorts of stuff.

Know what my church did instead?  Debuted their new church app for your smartphone.


No little kids.  No palm fronds.  No Jesus Christ Superstar songs.  Oh, they talked about Easter Lilies, would you like to donate one for next week?  They talked about Easter services next week, and how you should invite your friends.  And the sermon was continuing our study of The Beatitudes, the verses on Judge not, Lest Ye Be Judged.

Oooooooh, I get it.  I'm not even supposed to call my church weird for debuting their church app on Palm Sunday instead of talking about Palm Sunday.  Because that'd be JUDGING them.

I went back in my notes (Yes, I'm a sermon note-taking weirdo).  Last year, it was a guest speaker, but the sermon was still about Palm Sunday.  In 2011, it was one of our rotating pastor's last sermon, as he was leaving for another job, but he still talked about the resurrection of Jesus.  2010, Palm Sunday, check.  2009 Palm Sunday, check. 2008, Guest Speaker, Palm Sunday, check.

So, for the past five years, they've honored Palm Sunday. And this week, they didn't mention it.  They don't have a problem honoring Easter every year.  Or Christmas every year.  They're even doing a Good Friday service this year.

And Palm Sunday got the boot.  

I wonder why.  And I wonder why it bugs me so much.

I think it has something to do with Palm Sunday as the beginning of the end.  The irony and hypocrisy in the celebration, that these same cheering people will turn on Jesus in just a few days.  We are all hypocrites at some point or another, denying Jesus in our own ways, in our own times.  Even though we beg for forgiveness, even though we repent.  None of us are worthy, but Jesus still takes us back, still dies for us all, still forgive us.

And I wished that we had heard some sort of meditation on that this past Sunday. 

Maybe I'll go looking around online.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Always Try

One of the places we stopped at during the birthday weekend was a little seaside pier.  Your standard pier, with roller coasters, laser tag, and carousels and bumper cars.  and a ropes course, where you've got a harness on, and a rope connecting your harness to a track above you.  And then you maneuvered yourself around different obstacles, ropes, steps, etc, all while connected to the track above you.  
Here’s some pictures from the internet to give you an idea of what it looked like (minus the cruise ship in the background)

It looked like a lot of fun, and for two seconds, I was tempted to try it.

But then I saw a little girl up there.  Maybe 5 or 6.  A quick glance of the situation showed that her brother was already zooming around the course, having a blast.  Her mom was on the ground, encouraging her to try. I thought I was gonna see some amazing confidence, a true feat of a Child Gaining Courage And Overcoming Her Fears.  It was going to be awesome.

But not to be.

The little girl, while not outright bawling and throwing a fit (probably because she was a good twelve feet off the ground), definitely had Trembly Lip and Teary Eyes going.  She knew the situation.  She knew (or at least I thought she knew) that there was no real threat of her falling.  She was safely inside her harness, the harness was safely attached to the rope and track above.  There could be no safer way for her to try and explore and do something really cool and fun.

But she couldn't bring herself to try.  

She eased one foot out, then another.  Then stopped.  Her dad suited up and joined her up there, again encouraging her to try.  Just try.

The little girl did not want to try.  Trembly Lip and Teary Eyes prevailed.  She shook her head and eventually made her way back down to safe ground.

I guess you could said she DID try.  Tried for two steps, enough to know she didn’t want to do it and back down she goes.  But it would’ve have been so much fun to, what, what, try harder?  To overcome a fear?  To realize you’re stronger than you think?

That girl is going to be sticking with me for a while, I think.  What is it I’m afraid of?  What is it you’re afraid of? 

Are we going to go all Trembly Lip and Teary Eyes and not try to literally stick out foot out, one by one, to explore new ropes, new obstacles, new territories, just because it feels unsafe?  Don’t we know we’ve got God on our side, that we can’t fall, that he is our rope/carabiner combo tethering us?

Always try.  Always try harder (not talking about salvation here). Always come right up close to your fear and stick it out for two seconds longer than you think you can.  Amazing things might happen if you do.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It's my birthday week...

So I'm giving myself a blogging week off.

But by all means, please enjoy this awesome picture of Bella Beagle, the only dog I know who smiles:

She smiles even when you're not messing around with her face, see?

See ya next week!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Pursuit To Understand

This weekend found me in San Francisco with Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather, who I hadn’t seen in a long long time. We did the Walk Around San Francisco thing, we did the Expensive Boho Tea House thing, The Best Pizza In Berkeley Thing, we stumbled into a Happy Hour in Chinatown that rocked, and we even went to Pier 39, where we spent exactly three minutes looking at the sea lions before we had to take off.

We also went to a church Merriweather had heard about before. (It’s not this church, I just recognize the need for graphics in these long text posts). Since the service was at noon, it was easily catchable. And it was one of those pleasant non-denominational yet uber high tech churches, the kind that have the roving cameras, and they cross-cut during the songs so the whole thing looks like a Christian music video.

And I was excited about going, because I was eager to hear a new church. My church is fine, and pleasant, and yet I feel myself stagnating in my spiritual growth.

So here I am, hopped up on a large chai latte and ready to hear the WORD, ready to LEARN, ready to be CHALLENGED, ready to be INSPIRED.

The sermon is appropriately Easter themed – Jesus at the crossroads in Gethseme. And the slickly produced video that went before the sermon was intriguing enough, saying that sometimes the question isn’t which road do I go down, but how painful will it be. Okay, great, cool, totally been there, hit me with an amazing sermon that I can latch onto.

And yet… I got lost. No, no, not lost, I knew I exactly what it was. The sermon just… didn’t engage me. And then I felt so badly that I didn’t connect with the sermon more and WHY wasn’t I connecting with the sermon more? Why did I keep falling asleep? I thought the chai latte would keep me up! I don’t have to worry about the pastor seeing me fall asleep in front of him, we were in the overflow room watching the video screen of him.

I felt even worse when after the sermon, Merriweather says how much she really got into the sermon, it really made her think, she wishes she could get her boyfriend to listen to more sermons like these. I was about to say, “I was kinda bored,” but I couldn’t after Merriweather’s rave.

Typically in situations like these, my automatic response is not speak up! But what’s wrong with you? Everyone else liked it, why didn’t you?

So I thought maybe I should give it another try. Blame it on the chai latte, it socked me out instead of perking me up.

So yesterday, I wandered onto the church’s website, where don’tcha know, they upload all the pastor’s sermons with sound AND video. No mp3s for this tech crowd, you get picture too! (makes sense, this is San Francisco, a tech mecca).

And I listen to the sermon again, about the choice Jesus faced in the garden of Gethsemane. How not his will, but God’s must be done.

I remembered more than I thought I would. But the sermon still didn’t do anything for me. Maybe I’m just spoiled from my current home church, who have bullet points galore for each sermon, and commit themselves to whole books of the Bible to study (we’re doing the Beatitudes currently). This slick-techy church had three bullet points at the end, and didn’t really go into detail about them.

The whole experience makes me wonder what I need or expect from a sermon from a church. It sounds wrong to say, I wanna be entertained! Because while humor is helpful, it can also be superficial, and one would think studying the word of God would warrant a deeper effort.

But what do I expect when I listen to a sermon?

1. I want to engage. That means that whatever the sermon topic is about has some direct reference or bearing on my life and that’s what’s going to make me sit up and pay attention. 

2. I want to learn. Either something I had never considered, or a new look at something I did know before.

3. I will pursue/I won’t give up – If I didn’t get it the first time, I’ll try again. I’ll find the sermon again, I’ll listen to it again. If I still don’t get it, I’ll looks into things myself. The reason why I sometimes do 6 week series of stuff in the Bible is what happens when I don’t get stuff from my church.

It’s not enough to say “I didn’t get it” and walk away. TRY to get it. This isn’t about trying to be good (which is practically impossible anyway)., and it’s not about complete knowledge of God, because that’s equally impossible.

This is about not giving up on the pursuit of understanding. Because it’s that pursuit of God that draws you in relationship to Him. I’m not saying I have all the answers, because hell, no, I don’t. I just know that nobody ever got anywhere by giving up. Even in a techy-slick church.